Music Tutorials

Story – How Do I Find the Stories I Tell?

I just watched an interview with Kim Jung Gi. I had never heard of the guy. He’s a Korean Cartoonist who has a tremendous style & output. I guess the video appeared to me because he uses a brush pen and I was just looking at one because my old one is dying.

Kim Jung Gi - Siege of Lerdaeron
Kim Jung Gi – Siege of Lerdaeron

I felt the interview that promised to help us understand how this fellow achieved his Mastery failed miserably because the interviewer really had no concept of what the artist was doing. He asked only obvious technical questions like how good his memory is – as though as an artist all he was doing was regurgitating photocopies of things he has seen. It was clear that the artist was not super interested in this triviality, he was even clearer that he didn’t want to discuss what pen he used (which even I with 10 mins on ebay could answer) no doubt because he knows the pen does not make his artworks.

So why did the cartoonist interviewing this Master not ask the right questions?

A Drunk Can’t Be A Man

The problem I see here is that the person who was claiming to help us understand how to become a true artist has no idea himself and so focuses on technical things instead of what is blindingly obvious to any artist: Kim Jung Gi has stories to tell and engages passionately with a) the world, b) his craft in being able to tell those stories.

This matches quite a lot of what I have observed and tried to counter over the last 10+ years as a Blogger/Vlogger. I know that fashion says we can only say “positive” things but how positive is a teacher who lets students fall into a hole with no warning? Sometimes you have to warn then then let them fall in to realize 😉

The Artist observes the world and expresses what he sees and feels about that through their form. If that is drawing, painting, martial arts, music, cooking, or motor racing, it matters not.

In talking to my daughter about learning to draw I encouraged her to study Anatomy which is not just what skellingtons look like but understanding how everything works: ooh look a hinge, what makes it hingey? ooh look a politician, what makes em politikky? This is exactly what Kim Jung Gi spoke about.

The other things that I heard said were what I also told my daughter: draw often, draw both for yourself and draw as study. When you hit a thing you can’t express in your own vision then step aside and study it. Then go back and complete your vision. The sense that time should be divided between what you need to express (your joy) and technique is what I have encouraged.

Interestingly those two things, Technique & Anatomy are actually the same things expressed from different angles. Anatomy is the thing observed, Technique is how to create the thing.

It’s Still Rock & Roll To Me

Back to Music. And the heading: how to build Story that you tell through sound?

The #1 thing in finding the Story that you want to tell is to allow it to come to you. There are plenty of times I have gotten even so far as a complete album on tape and making the cover art before the real Story has fully shown itself to me – or I have let myself see it.

Usually though I try to have my ideas of what the space I am working in is early on. I work in albums but this equally happens from track (song) to track. If the idea is hard for me to see, I still trust that it is there and follow what feels right (avoiding falling into blind cliche).

If you are one of those who say “but it’s just sound man”, well you probably haven’t read this far anyway or you are just preventing yourself from seeing/feeling your scene & story and try to take refuge in someone else’s delusions/technicalities. That explains the pedantic yet truly illogical responses I get from some people. Hipster rules say I am supposed to say they have a right to their opinions but they don’t if they don’t understand what they are saying & doing.

Capt. Obvious but I think that as long as you aren’t acknowledging that your music is about setting a Scene and telling a Story of some kind then it will never happen for you. A bucket full of bolts can never be anything but a bucket full of bolts when all it does is sit on the shelf. It is still only a bucket of bolts if it is being shaken by an earthquake. Art happens when someone directs how those bolts are used in the purpose of an idea.

Making Movies

The first thing is to see the Scene that your Story is taking place in. This is where a lot of people come unstuck really fast.

We have not been trained in the last 20+ years to see, to imagine, to expand a thing in our mind. Bad TV, bad Music, bad Books, only reading Tweets… All of this adds up to minds that have not practiced. You will need to practice. But the good news is that this is exactly what the mind is designed to do so once you decide it is what you are doing, it will come.

Thomas Oval
Thomas Oval

In a session with a student, I asked him to build a piece describing a visit to the park. He really struggled with this. After a few rounds, he had reached as far as he could go at that time and I asked if I could complete the piece to how show it could be developed.

This video simply plays through the project twice: Original & Final versions. Notice the difference in detail and how parts are developed (expanded) to carry over time instead of just being there.

I’ve Seen The Word

The problem that my student faced was that he couldn’t trust enough to see what his vision was. He tried to be quite literal about the sounds used to represent the things he saw at his local park when walking his dog. When you listen to how I have expanded his ideas, I hope that you can hear that I have brought “romance” to the parts and the scene overall.

The problem with being littoral is that the human brain is not littoral at all. We think it is – we might even wish it were so we feel in control of what we choose not to understand better – but the human mind is a pattern matching system governed by emotions.

This is why that photograph above is not that beautiful. It barely represents that park. If we were to be standing in that exact spot, sure the trees, fences, trucks in the background would all be there but our experience of the park would not match this photo. Our experience of this park is colored by our feelings, about parks, about children, trucks, fences, sprinklers making us wet, the pretty lady who once dumped us in a park…

My student really struggled with the ability to see this park as anything but a bunch of bolts in a bucket. It was all facts to him. I admit that to me that park is not super exciting but the things I can do based on ideas & feelings from that photo are.

Rather than trying to print that picture into sound, I think on all the park related things I can see (feel) based on this as a starting point. I have the photo and the ideas that my student has put on the page. I build a vision from that.

From that I ended up developing a place that doesn’t really exist yet represents something about me. I have extrapolated in a cityscape behind me. I have added children and even a drug pusher. The sprinklers have better anatomy & therefore feel. Cars & trucks have more detail yet are more romantic. Note how the car horn is carried into the melodic parts. This makes the cars not just a flat thing on paper but part of the “song” of this place.

Blend The Strengths

Did I see all that in my mind at once before I started? Nope. I started with the first thing and let it become more detailed. That led me to the next thing and how they interacted with each other. Over time and layers of detail the vision grew until I knew what I had (and I hope you noticed how much more detailed my piece was not only overall but in each individual sound).

This is when it has become a piece of art that represents me. It started as something of my student’s self but is now both his & mine. Once you have heard it and had some feelings based on the material (that means not dismissing it because you only listen to EDM composed in the key of F# Lydian at 132bpm) then this piece has become something that represents something of you too.

This is vision. The more you do it the easier it gets. You can’t force it, you always come at it sideways, by making the space for it and letting it arrive. If you have learned the anatomy of the things you want to show and techniques that let you show them them, all you need do at that point is to focus on the feelings, the emotions, of your Scene & Story and it will build itself in front of you.

This corresponds perfectly with what Kim Jung Gi was trying to tell his interviewer and also meshes with things Vangelis has said about his methods of composing his majestic works. It also matches what the Masters in Kung Fu movies say.

The next time I opened YouTube it offered me this. I clicked with no expectation and within the first few minutes, this artist has already explained what I am trying to say to you. He is showing you exactly as he talks & draws. Watch it all. Peter is telling you exactly how to develop a piece of music, only with a pen.

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